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Vendor partnerships key to production & IT systems convergence

‘Best of breed’ partnerships will be the key to the successful convergence between production and IT systems, according to Rockwell Automation Integrated Architecture regional business leader, Geoff Irvine.

True convergence, he believes, means getting the best of both worlds — from production and from IT — and is essential to maximise production efficiency and profits.

“There has traditionally been a clash of cultures between IT and manufacturing,” said Irvine.

“The IT manager typically wants a standardised system, centralised control and good levels of security. By contrast, the manufacturing manager simply wants to maximise the uptime of his equipment. He tends to consider quick fixes and site-specific programming to be normal, and believes strict adherence to a central standard to be inflexible and an impediment to maximising machinery uptime.”

Irvine cited one example where the IT department brought the manufacturing system down while updating the production software.

“The IT department at a metal-working operation decided that the HMI software would best be managed centrally,” he said.

“They sent out the latest Microsoft patch, without forewarning the manufacturing managers that the software was being updated. The update crashed the production system, and of course the manufacturing personnel had no idea what was happening. This scenario probably represents an experience common across much of the Australian manufacturing sector.”

Blending IT and control philosophies is the obvious way forward, Irvine maintains, and this is leading to interesting software developments. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems have traditionally been IT-based, thereby limiting communication capabilities with plant floor systems.

The development of integrated production software that is founded on IT technologies, however, permits compatibility with a broad spectrum of commonly used IT applications, he says.

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